ECONOMY

Raising American wages

Only President Trump can save Obama's overtime law

Only one man can save Obama’s overtime pay plan: Donald Trump

A federal judge’s decision Tuesday to temporarily block the implementation of the Obama Administration’s new overtime laws — set to go into effect on Dec. 1 — effectively closes off one channel the government has to help increase wages for American workers.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration used its regulatory powers to try narrow something known as the “white-collar exemption.” The exemption allowed employers not to pay overtime to “executive, administrative and professional employees” as long as they made more than $23,660 a year. George W. Bush’s administration tripled the salary limit, raising it to $23,600 in 2004. That’s the bump you can see in the chart below.

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The Obama Administration finalized regulations in May that would have raised the salary level to $47,476 a year, which the Labor Department estimated would make roughly 4.6 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay. The Texas judge — an Obama appointee from 2014 — blocked the rule from going into effect nationwide, citing a section of the Labor Department’s regulation that said “white collar employees subject to the salary level test earning less than $913 per week will not qualify for the EAP exemption, and therefore will be eligible for overtime, irrespective of their job duties and responsibilities.”

It’s last bit — “irrespective of their job duties and responsibilities” — that the judge seemed to object to. He wrote that Congress intended that exemptions to the rule “depend on an employee’s duties rather than an employee’s salary.” He found that the final rule, as written, was “unlawful.”

In theory, this injunction is temporary, and the Obama administration could appeal. But given that President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20, 2017, there’s little time left. The attempt to raise overtime access for millions of workers under Obama appears to be dead.

Of course, Trump could always come in and Make America Great Again™, and re-write the rules so they conform to congressional intent in the same way that President Bush used administrative power to open up eligibility to overtime to more American white-collar workers in 2004. Seems an easy win for a guy who took office on a promise to bring back America’s middle class.

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